The Magic of the Horse-shoe: With other folk-lore notes - Robert Means Lawrence - ebook
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The Magic of the Horse-shoe: With other folk-lore notes written by Robert Means Lawrence who  was an American physician and writer. This book was published in 1898. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.

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The Magic of the Horse-shoe

With other folk-lore notes

By

Robert Means Lawrence

Table of Contents

PREFACE

THE MAGIC OF THE HORSE-SHOE

I. HISTORY OF THE HORSE-SHOE

II. THE HORSE-SHOE AS A SAFEGUARD

III. HORNS AND OTHER TWO-PRONGED OBJECTS

IV. THE SYMBOL OF THE OPEN HAND

V. CRESCENTS AND HALF-MOON-SHAPED AMULETS

VI. IRON AS A PROTECTIVE CHARM

VII. BLACKSMITHS CREDITED WITH SUPERNATURAL ATTRIBUTES

VIII. FIRE AS A SPIRIT-SCARING ELEMENT

IX. THE SERPENTINE SHAPE OF THE HORSE-SHOE

X. THE HORSE-SHOE ARCH IN ANCIENT CALEDONIAN HIEROGLYPHICS

XI. THE HORSE-SHOE AS A SYMBOL OF THE HORSE

XII. HORSES’ HEADS AS TALISMANS

XIII. THE HORSE-SHOE AS A FAVORITE ANTI-WITCH CHARM

XIV. THE POSITION OF THE HORSE-SHOE AS A PROTECTOR OF BUILDINGS

XV. THE LUCKY HORSE-SHOE IN GENERAL

XVI. THE HORSE-SHOE AS A PHALLIC SYMBOL

XVII. THE HORSE-SHOE AS A SYMBOL ON TAVERN SIGN-BOARDS

XVIII. HORSE-SHOES ON CHURCH-DOORS

XIX. HORSE-SHOE LEGENDARY LORE

XX. RECAPITULATION OF THEORIES OF THE ORIGIN OF THE HORSE-SHOE SUPERSTITION

XXI. CONCLUSION

FORTUNE AND LUCK

I. TYCHE, THE GRECIAN GODDESS OF GOOD LUCK

II. THE ROMAN GODDESS FORTUNA

III. THE CHARACTER OF FORTUNE

IV. TEMPLES OF FORTUNE

V. LUCK, ANCIENT AND MODERN

THE FOLK-LORE OF COMMON SALT[252]

I. ORIGIN AND HISTORY

II. SALT UNCONGENIAL TO WITCHES AND DEVILS

III. THE LATIN WORD “SAL”

IV. SALT EMPLOYED TO CONFIRM AN OATH

V. SALT-SPILLING AS AN OMEN

VI. HELPING TO SALT AT TABLE

VII. SALT AS A PROTECTION TO YOUNG INFANTS

VIII. SALT AS A MAGICAL SUBSTANCE

IX. MISCELLANEOUS REMARKS ON SALT

X. THE SALT-CELLAR

THE OMENS OF SNEEZING

I. IN ANCIENT TIMES

II. MEDIÆVAL BELIEFS ABOUT SNEEZING

III. MODERN SUPERSTITIONS ABOUT SNEEZING

IV. THE DOCTRINE OF DEMONIACAL POSSESSION

V. SALUTATION AFTER SNEEZING

VI. LEGENDS RELATING TO SNEEZING

DAYS OF GOOD AND EVIL OMEN

I. EGYPTIAN DAYS

II. ROMAN SUPERSTITION CONCERNING DAYS

III. MEDIÆVAL BELIEF IN DAY-FATALITY

IV. PREVALENCE OF SIMILAR BELIEFS IN MODERN TIMES

V. THE SIXTH DAY OF THE WEEK

VI. FRIDAY IN MODERN TIMES

SUPERSTITIOUS DEALINGS WITH ANIMALS

I. RATS AND MICE AS AVENGERS

II. SPIRITS ASSUME THE FORMS OF BLACK ANIMALS

III. EXORCISM AND CONJURATION OF VERMIN

IV. CHARMS AGAINST ANIMALS

V. IMAGES OF ANIMALS AND BIRDS USED AS CHARMS

VI. WORDS USED AS CHARMS

VII. SUPERSTITIOUS DEALINGS WITH WILD ANIMALS

VIII. LEGAL PROSECUTION OF ANIMALS

THE LUCK OF ODD NUMBERS

I. EARLY SIGNIFICANCE OF NUMBERS

II. THE NUMBER THREE

III. THE NUMBER SEVEN

IV. ODD NUMBERS IN WITCHCRAFT

V. ODD NUMBERS IN FOLK-MEDICINE

VI. THE NUMBER THIRTEEN

FOOTNOTES

PREFACE

The study of the origin and history of popular customs and beliefs affords an insight, otherwise unattainable, into the operations of the human mind in early times. Superstitions, however trivial in themselves, relics of paganism though they be, and oftentimes comparable to baneful weeds, are now considered proper subjects for scientific research. While the ignorant savage is a slave to many superstitious fancies which dominate his every action, the educated man strives to be free from such a bondage, yet recognizes as profitable the study of those same beliefs. The heterogeneous character of the material drawn from so many sources has rendered it difficult, if not impossible, to follow any distinctly systematic treatment of the subject. However, the development in recent years of a widespread interest in all branches of folk-lore warrants the hope that any volume devoted to this subject, and representing somewhat diligent research, may have a certain value, in spite of its imperfections. The expert folk-lorist may find much to criticise; but this book, treating of popular beliefs, is intended for popular reading. It has been the writer’s aim to make the chapter on the Horse-Shoe as exhaustive as possible, as this attractive symbol of superstition does not appear to have received hitherto the attention which it merits. This chapter is the outgrowth of a paper read at the seventh annual meeting of the American Folk-Lore Society, at Philadelphia, December 28, 1895, an abstract of which appeared in the Society’s Journal for December, 1896.

Extended quotations are indicated by smaller type.

R. M. L.

Boston, September 1, 1898.

THE MAGIC OF THE HORSE-SHOE

And still o’er many a neighboring door

She saw the horse-shoe’s curvèd charm.

Whittier, The Witch’s Daughter.

Happy art thou, as if every day thou hadst picked up a horse-shoe.

Longfellow, Evangeline.

I. HISTORY OF THE HORSE-SHOE

The evolution of the modern horse-shoe from the primitive foot-gear for draught animals used in ancient times furnishes an interesting subject for investigation. Xenophon and other historians recommended various processes for hardening and strengthening the hoofs of horses and mules,[1] and from this negative evidence some writers have inferred that the ancients were ignorant of farriery. It seems indeed certain that the practice of protecting the feet of horses was not universal among the Greeks and Romans. Fabretti, an Italian antiquary, examined with care the representations of horses on many ancient columns and marbles, and found but one instance in which the horse appeared to be shod;[2] and in most specimens of ancient art the iron horse-shoe is conspicuous by its absence. But in the mosaic portraying the battle of Issus, which was unearthed at Pompeii in 1831, and which is now in the Naples Museum, is the figure of a horse whose feet appear to be shod with iron shoes similar to those in modern use;[3] and in an ancient Finnish incantation against the plague, quoted in Lenormant’s “Chaldean Magic and Sorcery,” occur these lines:—

O Scourge depart; Plague, take thy flight … I will give thee a horse with which to escape, whose shoes shall not slide on ice, nor whose feet slip on the rocks.

No allusion to the horse-shoe is made by early writers on veterinary topics. But, on the other hand, there is abundant testimony that the ancients did sometimes protect the feet of their beasts of burden. Winckelmann, the Prussian art historian, describes an antique engraved stone representing a man holding up a horse’s foot, while an assistant, kneeling, fastens on a shoe.[4] In the works of the Roman poet Catullus occurs the simile of the iron shoe of a mule sticking in the mire.[5] Contemporary historians relate that the Emperor Nero caused his mules to be shod with silver,[6] while golden shoes adorned the feet of the mules belonging to the notorious Empress Poppæa.[7] Mention of an iron horse-shoe is made by Appian,[8] a writer not indeed remarkable for accuracy; but the phrase “brasen-footed steeds,” which occurs in Homer’s Iliad, is regarded by commentators as a metaphorical expression for strength and endurance. Wrappings of plaited fibre, as hemp or broom, were used by the ancients to protect the feet of horses.[9] But the most common form of foot covering for animals appears to have been a kind of leathern sock or sandal, which was sometimes provided with an iron sole. This covering was fastened around the fetlocks by means of thongs, and could be easily removed.[10]

Iron horse-shoes of peculiar form, which have been exhumed in Great Britain of recent years, have been objects of much interest to archæologists. In 1878 a number of such relics shaped for the hoof and pierced for nails were found at a place called Cæsar’s Camp, near Folkstone, England.[11] In the south of Scotland, also, ancient horse-shoes have been found, consisting of a solid piece of iron made to cover the whole hoof and very heavy. In the year 1653 a piece of iron resembling a horse-shoe, and having nine nail-holes, was found in the grave of Childeric I., king of the Franks, who died A. D. 481. Professor N. S. Shaler believes that the iron horse-shoe was invented in the fourth century, and from the fact that it was first called selene, the moon, from its somewhat crescent-like shape, he concludes that it originated in Greece.[12] But even in the ninth century, in France, horses were shod with iron on special occasions only,[13] and the early Britons, Saxons, and Danes do not appear to have had much knowledge of farriery. The modern art of shoeing horses is thought to have been generally introduced in England by the Normans under William the Conqueror.[14] Henry de Ferrars, who accompanied that monarch, is believed to have received his surname because he was intrusted with the inspection of the farriers; and the coat-of-arms of his descendants still bears six horse-shoes.[15]

On the gate of Oakham Castle, an ancient Norman mansion in Rutlandshire, built by Wakelin de Ferrars, son of the first earl of that name, were formerly to be seen a number of horse-shoes of different patterns.

The estate is famous on account of the tenure of the barons occupying it. Every nobleman who journeyed through its precincts was obliged as an act of homage to forfeit a shoe of the horse whereon he rode, or else to redeem it with a sum of money; and the horse-shoes thus obtained were nailed upon the gate, but are now within on the walls of the castle.

These walls are covered by memorials of royal personages and peers, who have thus paid tribute to the custom of the county.[16]

Queen Elizabeth was thought to have initiated this practice, though this opinion is incorrect. According to tradition she was once journeying on a visit to her lord high treasurer, William Cecil, the well-known Lord Burleigh, at his residence near Stamford. While passing through Oakham her horse is said to have cast a shoe, and in memory of the mishap the queen ordered a large iron shoe to be made and hung up in the castle, and that every nobleman traveling through the town should follow her example.

A similar usage prevails to-day, new shoes being provided of shapes and sizes chosen by the donors.[17]

While John of Gaunt (1339-99), son of Edward III. of England, was riding through the town of Lancaster, his horse cast a shoe, which was kept as a souvenir by the townspeople, and fastened in the middle of the street. And in accordance with a time-honored custom a new shoe is placed in the same spot every seven years by the residents of Horse-Shoe Corner.[18]

The practical value of the horse-shoe is tersely expressed in the old German saying, “A nail preserves a country;” for the nail keeps in place the horse-shoe, the shoe protects the foot of the horse, the horse carries the knight, the knight holds the castle, and the castle defends the country.

The following story from Grimm’s “Household Tales” (vol. ii. p. 303) may be appropriate in this place, as illustrating the same idea, besides pointing a moral.

The Nail.

A merchant had done a good business at the fair; he had sold his wares and lined his money-bags with gold and silver. Then he wanted to travel homeward and be in his house before nightfall. So he packed his trunk with the money on his horse and rode away. At noon he rested in a town, and when he wanted to go farther the stable-boy brought out his horse and said: “A nail is wanting, sir, in the shoe of its left hind foot.” “Let it be wanting,” answered the merchant; “the shoe will certainly stay on for the six miles I have still to go; I am in a hurry.” In the afternoon, when he once more alighted and had his horse fed, the stable-boy went to him and said, “Sir, a shoe is missing from your horse’s left hind foot; shall I take him to the blacksmith?” “Let it still be wanting,” answered the man, “the horse can very well[7] hold out for the couple of miles which remain; I am in haste.” He rode forth, but before long the horse began to limp. It had not limped long before it began to stumble, and it had not stumbled long before it fell down and broke its leg. The merchant was forced to leave the horse where it was, and unbuckle the trunk, take it on his back, and go home on foot. And there he did not arrive until quite late at night. “And that unlucky nail,” said he to himself, “has caused all this disaster.” Hasten slowly.

II. THE HORSE-SHOE AS A SAFEGUARD

Your wife’s a witch, man; you should nail a horse-shoe on your chamber-door.—Sir Walter Scott, Redgauntlet.

As a practical device for the protection of horses’ feet, the utility of the iron horse-shoe has long been generally recognized; and for centuries, in countries widely separated, it has also been popularly used as a talisman for the preservation of buildings or premises from the wiles of witches and fiends.

To the student of folk-lore, a superstition like this, which has exerted so wide an influence over men’s minds in the past, and which is also universally prevalent in our own times, must have a peculiar interest. What, then, were the reasons for the general adoption of the horse-shoe as a talisman? It is our purpose to consider the various theories seriatim.

Among the Romans there prevailed a custom of driving nails into cottage walls as an antidote against the plague. Both this practice and the later one of nailing up horse-shoes have been thought by some to originate from the rite of the Passover. The blood sprinkled upon the door-posts and lintel at the time of the great Jewish feast formed the chief points of an arch, and it may be that with this in mind people adopted the horse-shoe as an arch-shaped talisman, and it thus became generally emblematic of good luck.

The same thought may underlie the practice of the peasants in the west of Scotland, who train the boughs of the rowan or mountain-ash tree in the form of an arch over a farmyard gate to protect their cattle from evil.

III. HORNS AND OTHER TWO-PRONGED OBJECTS

The supernatural qualities of the horse-shoe as a preservative against imaginary demons have been supposed to be due to its bifurcated shape, as any object having two prongs or forks was formerly thought to be effective for this purpose. As with the crescent, the source of this belief is doubtless the appearance of the moon in certain of its phases.

Hence, according to some authorities, is derived the alleged efficacy as amulets of horse-shoes, the horns and tusks of animals, the talons of birds, and the claws of wild beasts, lobsters, and crabs. Hence, too, the significance of the oft-quoted lines from Robert Herrick’s “Hesperides:”—

Hang up hooks and sheers to scare

Hence, the hag that rides the mare.

The horn of the fabulous unicorn, in reality none other than that of the rhinoceros, is much valued as an amulet, and in west Africa, where the horns of wild animals are greatly esteemed as fiend-scarers, a large horn filled with mud and having three small horns attached to its lower end is used as a safeguard to prevent slaves from running away.[19]

In the vicinity of Mirzapur in central Hindostan the Horwas tie on the necks of their children the roots of jungle plants as protective charms; their efficacy being thought to depend on their resemblance to the horns of certain wild beasts.

The Mohammedans of northern India use a complex amulet, composed in part of a tiger’s claw and two claws of the large-horned owl with the tips facing outward,[20] while in southern Europe we find the necks of mules ornamented with two boar’s tusks or with the horns of an antelope.

Amulets fashioned in the shape of horns and crescents are very popular among the Neapolitans.[21] Elworthy quotes at some length from the “Mimica degli antichi” of Andrea de Jorio (Napoli, 1832), in illustration of this fact. From this source we learn that the horns of Sicilian oxen and of bullocks are in favor with the nobility and aristocracy as evil-eye protectives, and are frequently seen on their houses and in their gardens; stag’s antlers are the favorites with grocers and chemists, while the lower classes are content with the horns of rams and goats. The Sicilians are wont to tie pieces of red ribbon to the little horns which they wear as charms, and this is supposed vastly to increase their efficiency.

In southern Spain, particularly in Andalusia, the stag’s horn is a very favorite talisman. The native children wear a silver-tipped horn suspended from the neck by a braided cord made from the hair of a black mare’s tail. It is believed that an evil glance directed at the child is received by the horn, which thereupon breaks asunder, and the malevolent influence is thus dissipated.[22]

Among the Arabs the horn amulet is believed to render inert the malign glance of an enemy, and in the oases of the desert the horned heads of cattle are to be seen over the doors of the Arab dwellings as talismans.[23]

In Lesbos the skulls of oxen or other horned creatures are fixed upon trees or sticks to avert the evil eye from the crops and fruits.[24]

In Mongolia the horns of antelopes are prized on account of their alleged magical properties; fortune-tellers and diviners affect to derive a knowledge of futurity by observation of the rings which encircle them. The Mongols set a high value upon whip-handles made from these horns, and aver that their use by horsemen promotes endurance in their steeds.[25]

Inasmuch as the horns of animals serve as weapons both for attack and defense, they were early associated in men’s minds with the idea of power. Thus in ancient times the corners of altars were fashioned in the shape of horns, doubtless in order to symbolize the majesty and power of the Being in whose honor sacrifices were offered.[26]

Apropos of horns as symbols of strength, the peasants of Bannú, a district of the Punjab, believe that God placed the newly created world upon a cow’s horn, the cow on a fish’s back, and the fish on a stone; but what the stone rests upon, they do not venture to surmise. According to their theory, whenever the cow shakes her head, an earthquake naturally results.[27]

The Siamese attribute therapeutic qualities to the horns and tusks of certain animals, and their pharmacopœia contains a somewhat complex prescription used as a febrifuge, whose principal ingredients are the powdered horns of a rhinoceros, bison, and stag, the tusks of an elephant and tiger, and the teeth of a bear and crocodile. These are mixed together with water, and half of the resulting compound is to be swallowed, the remainder to be rubbed upon the body.[28]

The mano cornuta or anti-witch gesture is used very generally in southern and central Italy. Its antiquity is vouched for by its representation in ancient paintings unearthed at Pompeii.[29] It consists in flexing the two middle fingers, while the others are extended in imitation of horns. When the hand in this position is pointed at an obnoxious individual, the malignity of his glance is believed to be rendered inert.[30]

In F. Marion Crawford’s novel, “Pietro Ghisleri,” one of the characters, Laura Arden, was regarded in Roman society as a jettatrice, that is, one having the evil eye. Such a reputation once fastened on a person involves social ostracism. In the presence of the unfortunate individual every hand was hidden to make the talismanic gesture, and at the mere mention of her name all Rome “made horns.” No one ever accosted her without having the fingers flexed in the approved fashion, unless, indeed, they had about them some potent amulet.

It is a curious fact that the possession of the evil eye may be imputed to any one, regardless of character or position. Pope Pius IX. was believed to have this malevolent power, and many devout Christians, while on their knees awaiting his benediction, were accustomed slyly to extend a hand toward him in the above-mentioned position.[31]

In an article on “Asiatic Symbolism” in the “Indian Antiquary” (vol. xv. 1886), Mr. H. G. M. Murray-Aynsley says, in regard to Neapolitan evil-eye amulets, that they were probably introduced in southern Italy by Greek colonists of Asiatic ancestry, who settled at Cumæ and other places in that neighborhood. Whether fashioned in the shape of horns or crescents, they are survivals of an ancient Chaldean symbol. It has been said that nothing, unless perhaps a superstitious belief, is more easily transmissible than a symbol; and the people of antiquity were wont to attribute to every symbol a talismanic value.[32]

The modern Greeks, as well as the Italians, wear little charms representing the hand as making this gesture.[33]

But not alone in the south of Europe exists the belief in the peculiar virtues of two-pronged objects, for in Norway reindeer-horns are placed over the doors of farm-buildings to drive off demons;[34] and the fine antlers which grace the homes of successful hunters in our own country are doubtless often regarded by their owners as of more value than mere trophies of the chase, inasmuch as traditional fancy invests them with such extraordinary virtues.

In France a piece of stag-horn is thought to be a preservative against witchcraft and disease, while in Portugal ox-horns fastened on poles are placed in melon-patches to protect the fruit from withering glances.

Among the Ossetes, a tribe of the Caucasus, the women arrange their hair in the shape of a chamois-horn, curving forwards over the brow, thus forming a talismanic coiffure; and when a Moslem takes his child on a journey he paints a crescent between its eyes, or tattooes the same device on its body. The modern Greek, too, adopts the precaution of attaching a crab’s claw to the child’s head.[35] In northern Africa the horns of animals are very generally used as amulets, the prevailing idea being everywhere the same, namely, that pronged objects repel demons and evil glances.

Horns are used in eastern countries as ornaments to head-dresses, and serve, moreover, as symbols of rank. They are often made of precious metals, sometimes of wood. The tantura, worn by the Druses of Mount Lebanon in Syria, has this shape.[36]

In the Bulgarian villages of Macedonia and Thrace the so-called wise woman, who combines the professions of witch and midwife, is an important character. Immediately upon the birth of a child this personage places a reaping-hook in a corner of the room to keep away unfriendly spirits; the efficacy of the talisman being doubtless due partly to its shape, which bears considerable resemblance to a horse-shoe.

And in Albania, a sickle, with which straw has just been cut, is placed for a few seconds on the stomach of a newly born child to prevent the demons who cause colic from exercising their functions.[37]

The mystic virtue of the forked shape is not, however, restricted to its faculty of averting the glance of an evil eye or other malign influences, for the Divining Rod is believed to derive from this same peculiarity of form its magical power of detecting the presence of water or metals when wielded by an experienced hand.

IV. THE SYMBOL OF THE OPEN HAND

It is worthy of note that the symbol of an open hand with extended fingers was a favorite talisman in former ages, and was to be seen, for example, at the entrances of dwellings in ancient Carthage. It is also found on Lybian and Phœnician tombs, as well as on Celtic monuments in French Brittany.[38] Dr. H. C. Trumbull quotes evidence from various writers showing that this symbol is in common use at the present time in several Eastern lands. In the region of ancient Babylonia the figure of a red outstretched hand is still displayed on houses and animals; and in Jerusalem the same token is frequently placed above the door or on the lintel on account of its reputed virtues in averting evil glances. The Spanish Jews of Jerusalem draw the figure of a hand in red upon the doors of their houses; and they also place upon their children’s heads silver hand-shaped charms, which they believe to be specially obnoxious to unfriendly individuals desirous of bringing evil either upon the children themselves, or upon other members of the household.

In different parts of Palestine the open-hand symbol appears alike on the houses of Christians, Jews, and Moslems, usually painted in blue on or above the door.[39] Claude Reignier Conder, R. E., in “Heth and Moab,” remarks on the antiquity of this pagan emblem, which appears on Roman standards and on the sceptre of Siva in India. He is of the opinion that the figure of the red hand, whether sculptured on Irish crosses, displayed in Indian temples, or on Mexican buildings, is always an example of the same original idea,—that of a protective symbol.

A white hand-print is commonly seen upon the doors and shutters of Jewish and Moslem houses in Beyrout and other Syrian towns; and even the Christian residents of these towns sometimes mark windows and flour-boxes with this emblem, after dipping the hand in whitewash, in order to “avert chilling February winds from old people and to bring luck to the bin.”[40]

In Germany a rude amulet having the form of an open hand is fashioned out of the stems of coarse plants, and is deemed an ample safeguard against divers misfortunes and sorceries. It is called “the hand of Saint John,” or “the hand of Fortune.”

The Jewish matrons of Algeria fasten little golden hands to their children’s caps, or to their glass-bead necklaces, and they themselves carry about similar luck tokens.

In northwestern Scotland whoever enters a house where butter is being made is expected to lay his hand upon the churn, thereby signifying that he has no evil designs against the butter-maker, and dissipating any possible effects of an evil eye.[41]

As a charm against malevolent influences, the Arabs of Algeria make use of rude drawings representing an open hand, placed either above the entrances of their habitations or within doors,—a symbolical translation of the well-known Arabic imprecation, “Five fingers in thine eye!” Oftentimes the same meaning is conveyed by five lines, one shorter than the others to indicate the thumb, thus .[42]

V. CRESCENTS AND HALF-MOON-SHAPED AMULETS

The alleged predominant influence of the moon’s wax and wane over the growth and welfare of vegetation was formerly generally recognized. Thus in an almanac of the year 1661 it is stated that:—

If any corn, seed, or plant be either set or sown within six hours either before or after the full Moon in Summer, or before the new Moon in Winter, having joined with the cosmical rising of Arcturus and Orion, the Hædi and the Siculi, it is subject to blasting and canker.[43]

Timber was always cut during the wane of the moon, and so firmly rooted was this superstition that directions were given accordingly in the Forest Code of France.

An early English almanac advised farmers to kill hogs when the moon was growing, as thus “the bacon would prove the better in boiling.”

Even at the present time a host of credulities regarding the moon is prevalent among the ignorant classes of different lands. Thus, for example, the negroes in the vicinity of Washington, D. C., believe that potatoes should be planted before the new moon in order to thrive, and among the negroes and Indians of the State of Missouri, the proper time for weaning a baby or calf is determined by the lunar phases.

Moon-worship was one of the most ancient forms of idolatry, and still exists among some Eastern nations. A relic of the practice is seen in some parts of Great Britain in the custom of bowing to the new moon.

Astrologers regarded the moon as exerting a powerful influence over the health and fortunes of human beings, according to her aspect and position at the time of their birth. Thus in a “Manual of Astrology” by Raphael (London, 1828), she is described as a “cold, moist, watery, phlegmatic planet, and partaking of good or evil as she is aspected by good or evil stars.”[44]

The growing horned moon was thought to exert a mysterious beneficent influence not only over many of the operations of agriculture, but over the affairs of every-day life as well. Hence doubtless arose the belief in the value of crescent-shaped and cornute objects as amulets and charms; of these the horse-shoe is the one most commonly available, and therefore the one most generally used.

In astrology the moon has indeed always been considered the most influential of the heavenly bodies by reason of her rapid motion and nearness to the earth; and the astrologers of old, whether in forecasting future events or in giving advice as to proper times and seasons for the transaction of business affairs, first ascertained whether or not the moon were well aspected. This was also a cardinal point with the shrewd magicians of later centuries. And should any one require proof of the existence of a modern belief in lunar influences, let him consult Zadkiel’s Almanac for the year 1898. Therein he will find it stated that when the sun is in benefic aspect with the moon, it is a suitable day for asking favors, seeking employment, and traveling for health.

Venus in benefic aspect with the moon is favorable for courting, marrying, visiting friends, engaging maid-servants, and seeking amusement.

Mars, for consulting surgeons and dealing with engineers and soldiers.

Jupiter, for opening offices and places of business, and for beginning new enterprises.

Saturn, for having to do with farmers, miners, and elderly people, for buying real estate and for planting and sowing.

For, says the oracle of the almanac, astrologers have found by experience that if the above instructions are followed, human affairs proceed smoothly.

In his work entitled “The Evil-Eye” (London, 1895), Mr. Frederick Thomas Elworthy calls attention to the fact that the half-moon was often placed on the heads of certain of the most powerful Egyptian deities, and therefore when worn became a symbol of their worship. Indeed, the crescent is common in the religious symbolism not only of ancient Egypt, but also of Assyria and India. The Hebrew maidens in the time of the prophet Isaiah wore crescent-shaped ornaments on their heads.[45]

The crescent is the well-known symbol of the Turkish religion. According to tradition, Philip of Macedon (B. C. 382-336), the father of Alexander the Great, attempted to undermine the walls of Byzantium during a siege of the city, but the attempt was revealed to the inhabitants by the light of a crescent moon. Whereupon they erected a statue to Diana, and adopted the crescent as their symbol.

When the Byzantine empire was overthrown by Mohammed II., in 1453, the Turks regarded the crescent, which was everywhere to be seen, as of favorable import. They therefore made it their own emblem, and it has since continued to be a distinctively Mohammedan token.

In the Mussulman mind the new moon is intimately associated with devotional acts. Its appearance is eagerly watched for and

The moment the eye lights on the slight thread of silver in the western twilight, it remains fixed there, whilst prayers of thanksgiving and praise are offered, the hands being held up by the face, the palms upward and open, and afterwards passed three times over the visage, the gaze still remaining immovable.[46]

Golden crescents of various sizes were among the most primitive forms of money. Ancient coins frequently bore the likenesses of popular deities or their symbols, and of the latter the crescent appears to have been the one most commonly employed.[47] It was the usual mint-mark of the coins of Thespia in the early part of the fourth century B. C.;[48] is seen on the coins of the reigns of Augustus, Nero, and other Roman emperors; and on the silver pieces of the time of Hadrian is found the Luna crescens with seven stars.[49]

A crescent adorned the head of the goddess Diana in her character of Hecate, or ruler of the infernal regions.

Hecate was supposed to preside over enchantments, and was also the special guardian and protectress of houses and doors.[50] The Greeks not only wore amulets in the shape of the half moon, but placed them on the walls of their houses as talismans;[51] and the Romans used phalĕræ, metallic disks and crescents, to decorate the foreheads and breasts of their horses.

Such ornaments are to be seen on the caparisons of the horses on Trajan’s Column and on other ancient monuments, in the collection of Roman antiquities in the British Museum, and in mediæval paintings and tapestries.[52]

In the portrayals of combats between the Romans and Dacians on the Arch of Constantine, the trappings of the horses of both armies are decorated with these emblems,[53] as are also the bridle reins of a horse shown in a French manuscript of the fifteenth century representing “gentlefolk meeting on horseback.”[54]

Charms of similar shape, made of wolves’ teeth and boars’ tusks, have been found in tumuli in different parts of Great Britain.

A sepulchral stone, which is preserved among other Gallo-Roman relics within the château of Chinon, France, bears the effigy of a man standing upright and clad in a large tunic with wide sleeves. Above the figure is a crescent-shaped talisman, a symbol frequently found in monuments of that period.[55]

But the use of these symbols, although so ancient, is by no means obsolete; the brass crescent, an avowed charm against the evil eye, is very commonly attached to the elaborately decorated harnesses of Neapolitan draught-horses, and is used in the East to embellish the trappings of elephants. It is also still employed in like manner in various parts of Europe and in the England of to-day. In Germany small half-moon-shaped amulets similar to the ancient μηνίσχοι or lunulæ are still used against the evil eye.

In Sweden and Frisia, bridal ornaments for the head and neck often represent the moon’s disk in its first quarter; and it is customary to call out after a newly married pair, “Increase, O Moon.”[56]

Elworthy remarks that the horse-shoe, wherever used as an amulet, is the handy conventional representative of the crescent, and that the Buddhist crescent emblem is a horse-shoe with the curve pointed like a Gothic arch.

The English fern called moonwort (Botrychium lunaria) is thought to owe its reputed magical powers to the crescent form of the segments of its frond. Some writers regard it as identical with the martagon, an herb formerly much used by sorcerers; and also with the Italian sferracavallo.

According to the famous astrologer and herbalist, Nicholas Culpepper, moonwort possessed certain occult virtues, and was endowed with extraordinary attributes, chief among them being its power of undoing locks and of unshoeing horses. The same writer remarked that, while some people of intelligence regarded these notions with scorn, the popular name for moonwort among the countryfolk was “unshoe-the-horse.”[57]

Du Bartas, in his “Divine Weekes,” says in reference to this plant:—

Horses that, feeding on the grassy hills, tread upon moonwort with their hollow heels, though lately shod, at night go barefoot home, their maister musing where their shoes become. O moonwort! Tell me where thou hid’st the smith, hammer and pinchers, thou unshodd’st them with.

The horse-shoe has sometimes been identified with the cross, and has been supposed to derive its amuletic power from a fancied resemblance to the sacred Christian symbol. But inasmuch as it is difficult to find any marked similarity in form between the crescent and the cross, this theory does not appear to warrant serious consideration.

VI. IRON AS A PROTECTIVE CHARM

Some writers have maintained that the luck associated with the horse-shoe is due chiefly to the metal, irrespective of its shape, as iron and steel are traditional charms against malevolent spirits and goblins. In their view, a horse-shoe is simply a piece of iron of graceful shape and convenient form, commonly pierced with seven nail-holes (a mystic number), and therefore an altogether suitable talisman to be affixed to the door of dwelling or stable in conformity with a venerable custom sanctioned by centuries of usage. Of the antiquity of the belief in the supernatural properties of iron there can be no doubt.

Among the ancient Gauls this metal was thought to be consecrated to the Evil Principle, and, according to a fragment of the writings of the Egyptian historian Manetho (about 275 B. C.), iron was called in Egypt the bone of Typhon, or Devil’s bone, for Typhon in the Egyptian mythology was the personification of evil.[58]

Pliny, in his “Natural History,” states that iron coffin-nails affixed to the lintel of the door render the inmates of the dwelling secure from the visitations of nocturnal prowling spirits.

According to the same author, iron has valuable attributes as a preservative against harmful witchcrafts and sorceries, and may thus be used with advantage both by adults and children. For this purpose it was only necessary to trace a circle about one’s self with a piece of the metal, or thrice to swing a sword around one’s body. Moreover, gentle proddings with a sword wherewith a man has been wounded were reputed to alleviate divers aches and pains, and even iron-rust had its own healing powers:—

If a horse be shod with shoes made from a sword wherewith a man has been slain, he will be most swift and fleet, and never, though never so hard rode, tire.[59]

The time-honored belief in the magical power of iron and steel is shown in many traditions of the North.

A young herdswoman was once tending cattle in a forest of Vermaland in Sweden; and the weather being cold and wet, she carried along her tinder-box with flint and steel, as is customary in that country. Presently along came a giantess carrying a casket, which she asked the girl to keep while she went away to invite some friends to attend her daughter’s marriage. Quite thoughtlessly the girl laid her fire-steel on the casket, and when the giantess returned for the property she could not touch it, for steel is repellant to trolls, both great and small. So the herdswoman carried home the treasure-box, which was found to contain a golden crown and other valuables.[60]

The heathen Northmen believed in the existence of a race of dwarfish artisans, who were skilled in the working of metals, and who fashioned implements of warfare in their subterranean workshops. These dwarfs were also thought to inhabit isolated rocks; and according to a popular notion, if a man chanced to encounter one of them, and quickly threw a piece of steel between him and his habitation, he could thereby prevent the dwarf from returning home, and could exact of him whatever he desired.[61]

Among French Canadians, fireflies are viewed with superstitious eyes as luminous imps of evil, and iron and steel are the most potent safeguards against them; a knife or needle stuck into the nearest fence is thought to amply protect the belated wayfarer against these insects, for they will either do themselves injury upon the former, or will become so exhausted in endeavoring to pass through the needle’s eye as to render them temporarily harmless.[62] Such waifs and strays of popular credulity may seem most trivial, yet they serve to illustrate the ancient and widely diffused belief in the traditional qualities ascribed to certain metals.

One widely prevalent theory ascribed to iron a meteoric origin, but the different nations of antiquity were wont to attribute its discovery or invention to some favorite deity or mythological personage; Osiris was thus honored by the Egyptians, Vulcan by the Romans, and Wodan or Odin by the Teutons.

In early times the employment of iron in the arts was much restricted by reason of its dull exterior and brittleness. There existed, moreover, among the Romans a certain religious prejudice against the metal, whose use in many ceremonies was wholly proscribed. This prejudice appears to have been due to the fact that iron weapons were held jointly responsible with those who wielded them for the shedding of human blood; inasmuch as swords, knives, battle-axes, lance and spear points, and other implements of war were made of iron.[63]

Those mythical demons of Oriental lands known as the Jinn are believed to be exorcised by the mere name of iron;[64] and Arabs when overtaken by a simoom in the desert endeavor to charm away these spirits of evil by crying, “Iron, iron!”[65]

The Jinn being legendary creatures of the Stone Age, the comparatively modern metal is supposed to be obnoxious to them. In Scandinavia and in northern countries generally, iron is a historic charm against the wiles of sorcerers.

The Chinese sometimes wear outside of their clothing a piece of an old iron plough-point as a charm;[66] and they have also a custom of driving long iron nails in certain kinds of trees to exorcise some particularly dangerous female demons which haunt them.[67] The ancient Irish were wont to hang crooked horse-shoe nails about the necks of their children as charms;[68] and in Teutonic folk-lore we find the venerable superstition that a horse-shoe nail found by chance and driven into the fireplace will effect the restoration of stolen property to the owner. In Ireland, at the present time, iron is held to be a sacred and luck-bringing metal which thieves hesitate to steal.[69]

A Celtic legend says that the name Iron-land or Ireland originated as follows: The Emerald Isle was formerly altogether submerged, except during a brief period every seventh year, and at such times repeated attempts were made by foreigners to land on its soil, but without success, as the advancing waves always swallowed up the bold invaders. Finally a heavenly revelation declared that the island could only be rescued from the sea by throwing a piece of iron upon it during its brief appearance above the waters. Profiting by the information thus vouchsafed, a daring adventurer cast his sword upon the land at the time indicated, thereby dissolving the spell, and Ireland has ever since remained above the water. On account of this tradition the finding of iron is always accounted lucky by the Irish; and when the treasure-trove has the form of a horse-shoe, it is nailed up over the house door. Thus iron is believed to have reclaimed Ireland from the sea, and the talismanic symbol of its reclamation is the iron horse-shoe.[70]

Once upon a time—so runs a tradition of the Ukraine, the border region between Russia and Poland—some men found a piece of iron. After having in vain attempted to eat it, they tried to soften it by boiling it in water; then they roasted it, and afterwards beat it with stones. While thus engaged, the Devil, who had been watching them, inquired, “What are you making there?” and the men replied, “A hammer with which to beat the Devil.” Thereupon Satan asked where they had obtained the requisite sand; and from that time men understood that sand was essential for the use of iron-workers; and thus began the manufacture of iron implements.[71]

Among the Scotch fishermen also iron is invested with magical attributes. Thus if, when plying their vocation, one of their number chance to indulge in profanity, the others at once call out, “Cauld airn!” and each grasps a handy piece of the metal as a counter influence to the misfortune which would else pursue them throughout the day.[72] Even nowadays in England, in default of a horse-shoe, the iron plates of the heavy shoes worn by farm laborers are occasionally to be seen fastened at the doors of their cottages.[73]

When in former times a belief in the existence of mischievous elves was current in the Highland districts of Scotland, iron and steel were in high repute as popular safeguards against the visits of these fairy-folk; for they were sometimes bold enough to carry off young mothers, whom they compelled to act as wet-nurses for their own offspring. One evening many years ago a farmer named Ewen Macdonald, of Duldreggan, left his wife and young infant indoors while he went out on an errand; and tradition has it that while crossing a brook, thereafter called in the Gaelic tongue “the streamlet of the knife,” he heard a strange rushing sound accompanied with a sigh, and realized at once that fairies were carrying off his wife. Instantly throwing a knife into the air in the name of the Trinity, the fairies’ power was annulled, and his wife dropped down before him.[74]

In Scandinavian and Scottish folk-lore, there is a marked affinity between iron and flint. The elf-bolt or flint arrowhead was formerly in great repute as a charm against divers evil influences, whether carried around as an amulet, used as a magical purifier of drinking-water for cattle, or to avert fairy spite. It seems possible that iron and steel in superseding flint, which was so useful a material in the rude arts of primitive peoples, inherited its ancient magical qualities.

In the Hebrides a popular charm against the wiles of sorcerers consisted in placing pieces of flint and untempered steel in the milk of cows alleged to have been bewitched. The milk was then boiled, and this process was thought to foil the machinations of the witch or enchantress.[75] The fairies of the Scottish lowlands were supposed to use arrows tipped with white flint, wherewith they shot the cattle of persons obnoxious to them, the wounds thus inflicted being invisible except to certain personages gifted with supernatural sight.[76]

According to a Cornish belief, iron is potent to control the water-fiends, and when thrown overboard enables mariners to land on a rocky coast with safety even in a rough sea.[77] A similar superstition exists in the Orkney Islands with reference to a certain rock on the coast of Westray. It is thought that when any one with a piece of iron about him steps upon this rock, the sea at once becomes turbulent and does not subside until the magical substance is thrown into the water.[78]

The inhabitants of the rocky island of Timor, in the Indian Archipelago, carry about them scraps of iron to preserve themselves from all kinds of mishaps, even as the London cockney cherishes with care his lucky penny, crooked sixpence, or perforated shilling; while in Hindostan iron nails are frequently driven in over a door, or into the legs of a bedstead, as protectives. It was a mediæval wedding custom in France to place on the bride’s finger a ring made from a horse-shoe nail,[79] a superstitious bid, as it were, for happy auspices.

In Sicily, iron amulets are popularly used against the evil eye; indeed iron in any form, especially the horse-shoe, is thought to be effective, and in fact talismanic properties are ascribed to all metals. When, therefore, a Sicilian feels that he is being “overlooked,” he instantly touches the first available metallic object, such as his watch-chain, keys, or coins.[80] In ancient Babylon and Assyria it was believed that invisible demons might enter the body during the acts of eating and drinking and thus originate disease, and the doctrine of demoniacal possession as the cause of illness is still widely prevalent in uncivilized communities at the present day. Wherever, therefore, such notions exist, talismans are naturally employed to render inert the machinations of these little demons; and of all these safeguards, iron and steel are perhaps the most potent. Quite commonly in Germany, among the lower classes, such articles as knives, hatchets, and cutting instruments generally, as well as fire-irons, harrows, keys, and needles, are considered protectives against disease if placed near or about the sick person.[81]

In Morocco it is customary to place a dagger under the patient’s pillow,[82] and in Greece a black-handled knife is similarly used to keep away the nightmare.

In Germany iron implements laid crosswise are considered to be powerful anti-witch safeguards for infants; and in Switzerland two knives, or a knife and fork, are placed in the cradle under the pillow. In Bohemia a knife on which a cross is marked, and in Bavaria a pair of opened scissors, are similarly used. In Westphalia an axe and a broom are laid crosswise on the threshold, the child’s nurse being expected to step over these articles on entering the room.[83]